Daily Breeze (Los Angeles, Calif.), December 11, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: A yearlong study shows that your zip code is one of the best predictors of health conditions. Here we can see environmental injustice and white privilege embedded in land-use patterns.]

By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer

The results of a yearlong study [2.3 Mbytes PDF] released Dec. 10, 2008 found exhaustive evidence that one of the biggest predictors of good health is your ZIP code.

Health advocates say that if you live on the west side of Los Angeles County, chances are you have access to bike paths, grocery stores, good schools, hospitals and health clinics.

If you live on the south side, including Hawthorne and Inglewood, chances are you are surrounded by fast-food restaurants, liquor stores and concrete; crime is likely high, and your rates of diabetes, liver disease, obesity and other health problems are well above average.

"I'm not surprised there are disparities, (I'm surprised by) the starkness of the level of scarcity of resources," said Gwen Flynn, a health advocate for Community Health Councils, one of the groups that conducted the study. "It's stunning to me. This confirms what we believe, that health status is not just a matter of personal behavior."

The results, condensed in a 100-page "South LA Health Equity Scorecard," compares the west and the south regions of Los Angeles on 50 different environmental factors that impact health.

The study also shows, in raw numbers, that the southern region does not share equally in overall resources, said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of the health council, a nonprofit that represents public health clinics.

Some of the findings show:

** In the south, there are 11 pediatricians for every 100,000 children; in the west (which includes Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, Malibu and parts of Los Angeles) there are 193 pediatricians per 100,000.

** In the south, 30 percent of residents are uninsured, compared with 12 percent in the west.

** South Los Angeles has 8.5 liquor stores per square mile compared with 1.97 in the west.

** In the south, 64 percent of schools are classified as insufficiently staffed and funded, while 8 percent of schools on the west side fall below state standards.

Those factors contribute to extremely poor health: 28 percent of south side residents suffer from high blood pressure compared with 16.8 percent in the west; the rate of sexually transmitted disease is 20 percent in the south and 7 percent in the west; and about twice as many people are obese in the south as they are in the west.

Jim Mangia of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, which has clinics in south Los Angeles, said more than half of children who come from the south have lead poisoning, which can cause brain damage.

The report, he said, for the first time attaches numbers to a problem that most health workers already knew existed.

"I am both outraged and hopeful," he said during a panel discussion about the results. "We can now begin to fight back against these conditions."

County administrators and politicians, including newly-elected county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Inglewood City Councilman Daniel Tabor, also weighed in with promises to find solutions.

Public-private health partnerships and mandates for cities to include health assessments when making zoning decisions were some of the ideas floated.

Ridley-Thomas said the fact that the country is in a recession is not an excuse for delay.

"Now is the time to step up and make a difference," he said.